Students (from left) Alyssa Zucchet

Students (from left) Alyssa Zucchet

Taking education beyond the classroom

Chilliwack secondary’s Envirothon team isn’t taking any chances this year.

Chilliwack secondary’s Envirothon team isn’t taking any chances this year.

A blue binder, with the thickness of an Oxford Dictionary, is crammed full of soil characteristics, forestry dynamics, aquatic ecology, wildlife species, land use issues, estuaries – everything environmental and everything New Brunswick related.

The CSS team, consisting of five grade 11 and 12 students, have been spending every spare moment reading it, studying it, memorizing it.

“Last year was cutthroat, it was unbelievable,” said teacher Connie Williams, who led the team to Fresno, California last year where, despite coming in first provincially, they came in last internationally.

It was the first international Envirothon competition CSS has participated in.

“Last year was a stiff learning curve, I didn’t realize what we were getting into until we got there,” said Williams.

“Now I know.”

The Canon Envirothon competition is North America’s largest high school environmental education competition with more than 500,000 students throughout Canada and the United States competing locally and regionally for a spot at the international competition.

It’s a contest that goes beyond textbooks and the classroom and has students learning outside, working with industry professionals, and performing a variety of field studies.

“I really like doing the field work, I absorb the information better when it’s hands-on,” said Grade 12 student Celeste Newbury. “I think it has more of an impact when you can see what you’re doing rather than just reading it in a book.”

Leading up to the competition, on their own time, students learn about soil structures and farming practices, and how to evaluate land forms and soil characteristics. They study aquatic ecosystems and the effects of aquatic pollutions. They memorize forestry species, structures, dynamics, and wildlife. They also learn about current environmental issues affecting North American ecosystems.

The international competition is stiff.

Provincially the CSS Envirothon team has consistently placed first or second, but it’s only had to compete against a few other teams. The international competition, however, has 50 of the best teams throughout North America, and some who have had to beat out more than 100 other teams regionally.

The CSS team, two of who are returning members, is using that knowledge as momentum.

“We’ve already experienced it, we know what it’s like, we know how tough the competition is, and we’re going to be more prepared,” said Grade 11 student and returning member Alyssa Zucchet, who’s been working towards this competition all year.

“Last year was a trial run,” said Grade 12 student and fellow returning member Connor Ford. “This year, we want to win.”

The knowledge needed for the regional competitions is focused on the local environment specific to each region. The knowledge needed for the international competition is focused on the area where the competition is held. This year, it’s New Brunswick.

“We’re trying to learn as much on paper as we can,” said Williams. “And then when we get there, we’re going to have three days to look around the area … three days to see how much more we can cram in our heads for just that area.”

Since Canadian schools started participating in Envirothon competitions 15 years ago, they’ve only cracked the top 10 twice; B.C. has never made it to the top ranks.

This year’s CSS team aims to change that.

If they win, each student will receive $5,000 and a Canon camera.

The competition runs from July 24-28. At a cost of nearly $12,000 for the team to attend, fundraising is necessary.

The CSS Envirothon team is holding a dinner fundraiser on June 17 at 6 p.m. at Anavets, which is located at 46268 Yale Road. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased through Connie Williams at 604-795-7295 or Debbie Bernard at 604-795-5236 or through Anavets at 604-792-6645.

kbartel@theprogress.com